Shedding light on…n°5 - Google’s AMP: from addiction to withdrawal?
To improve navigation on mobile, Google has deployed a multifaceted technology: AMP. Quickly adopted by the press, it is now gradually being abandoned. This 5th issue of “Shedding light on…” explores how this controversial technology works, its advantages, disadvantages and challenges.
AMP, a multifaceted technology to reduce the perceived loading time of a web page
Introduced by Google in 2015, AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) refers to a set of tools aimed at accelerating the display of web pages on mobile. At the heart of the technology: a series of rules intended to proscribe the use of slow features by developers and materialized by a language close to HTML. In addition, there are two mechanisms activated by default on most browsers when viewing an AMP page from a search engine:
- the caching or storage of this page on the search engine’s servers;
- prerendering or anticipating the appearance of the page before it is viewed.
While caching does result in faster loading times, our analysis shows that this is often marginal compared to the acceleration provided by AMP. Prerendering only reduces the user’s perception of the loading time.
Far from being trivial, these two mechanisms lead to a change in the hosting of the page, which is now technically owned by the search engine and not by the publisher. As a result, the latter’s ability to measure its audience and to offer targeted advertising is reduced, leading ultimately to significant economic impacts.
Initially, massive adoption by news publishers
AMP was quickly adopted by many press publishers for several reasons, among which:
- the growing importance of website consultation via mobile and therefore the impact of loading times on their audience ;
- the advantages of AMP in terms of referencing, in particular the possibility to appear in the Top Stories Carousel on the Google Search page, which exclusivity has been granted to AMP pages until 2021.
Thus, by the end of 2020, nearly 90% of French press publishers were using AMP. However, the adoption of this technology has not been without concession. For example, until 2018, the header bidding allowing publishers to monetize their content without going exclusively through Google was not compatible with AMP.
Strong constraints and the removal of the referencing advantage have defeated the initial enthusiasm
While features were gradually implemented, frequent technical changes and the lack of transparency in AMP’s governance were the source of growing criticism from media publishers. The latter also blamed:
- the need to develop specific AMP web pages in parallel to the original html pages for mobile and PC versions;
- the impossibility with AMP to develop pages allowing advanced user paths or complex visualizations.
Shortly after Google announced in April 2021 that it would remove the exclusivity granted to AMP pages in its Top Stories Carousel, several French media publishers re-evaluated their use of AMP because the remaining advantages seemed derisory - such as the free cache server provided by Google - compared to the costs and constraints incurred. On the other hand, our analysis confirmed that most of the rules built into AMP can be implemented directly by publishers without the need for AMP tools, and that several have managed to do without AMP with very little performance loss.
Since the beginning of 2022, at least two major French publishers have abandoned AMP and others are considering an imminent exit.
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